Barely more than three minutes passed in the first half against Texas before Oklahoma forward Khadeem Lattin Lattin picked up his first foul. Lon Kruger went to his bench, but it wasn’t the call to junior college 7-footer Akolda Manyang that had been the custom.
Instead, it was redshirt freshman Jamuni McNeace who jumped up to check in to the game.
As the final seconds wound down and with the score tied, Dante Buford found himself matched up one-on-one with lightning quick Texas guard Isaiah Taylor. On what would be the Longhorns’ final possession, Buford drew a charging foul – just a few minutes after knocking down two key free throws in Oklahoma’s come-from-behind victory.
Buford has scored at least five points in each of the last three games after scoring more than five points only four times in the previous 20 games.
The two freshmen that Oklahoma redshirted last year – one forced to and one still new to basketball – are making an impact, albeit in the infancy stages.
“It’s a gradual thing typically, but if you make a shot or something happens, it speeds it up and your confidence goes up and you’re more comfortable,” Kruger said. “The game slows down a little bit.”
For McNeace, it started in practice when Kruger just asked him to work and bring energy. After the victory against TCU, McNeace had proven enough in practice to pass Manyang on the depth chart.
Manyang just hadn’t been able to translate practice efficiency into game action. Kruger decided to give McNeace a shot.
Over the last three games, McNeace has played 22 minutes even without playing against Kansas State. Before then, McNeace had seen just eight minutes of Big 12 action. He saw just 77 minutes of game action before the win against TCU, and McNeace played in just 12 of 20 games.
That’s an average of less than six-and-a-half minutes per game played – less than four minutes per game as a whole.
“I just tried to bring energy in practice, and it kind of transferred over to the games,” McNeace said. “. . . (Kruger) thought I was bringing the energy and giving him what he wanted. He just put me in. Hopefully, I produced like he wanted me to.”
Only time will tell if McNeace continues to get playing time and Buford continues to get crucial minutes, but No. 3 Oklahoma (20-3, 8-3) needs all the production is can get off the bench.
“We need to continue to grow that production off the bench,” Kruger said. “Dante is getting more comfortable all the time, making shots in practice. It was good to see him make one in the game.”